A look back on the second oldest town in Navarro County

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

The City of Dawson, just twenty-one miles west of Corsicana celebrates an important anniversary today. Saturday, July 24 marks the 140-year anniversary of the Navarro County town.

The second town established in the county, having grown out of Spring Hill, Dawson was named after Britton “Britt” Dawson (July 15, 1817 – Sept. 4, 1905), a cattle rancher from Alabama and participant of the Battle of San Jacinto. Arriving to the area in 1847, the rancher was initially searching for grass and water for his animals, choosing to settle in the area. On Nov. 2, 1848, married Susanna Cannon. Together, they had ultimately had ten children together (Dawson had a total of 13).

In 1859, Dawson sent ox carts south to Houston to gather lumber for building his large house that served as a stagecoach stop. Unfortunately, the house no longer stands today.

The home of Britton Dawson. – Courtesy photo

The community of Dawson began to grow by 1881, after the Texas and St. Louis Southwestern Railway (known later as the “Cotton Belt”) built a narrow-gauge line from Corsicana to Waco. The town was quickly becoming a supply and shipping center for local cotton and crop farmers, and the railroad promptly set up a box car for a depot. The growth quickly established churches and schools, and the Spring Hill Masonic lodge relocated to the flourishing area, as did many of the town’s residents.

Early days of farming and threshing in Dawson. – Courtesy photos

Dawson’s first drug store was established by Dr. W. H. Kirksey. with Kirksey, Dean, and Holcomb being three of the town’s earliest doctors.

By 1882, the Dawson post office opened. By 1883, the community established a lumberyard and a drugstore.
Dawson resident Ike Hughes opened a photography studio during this period of growth, but closed that business shortly after to focus on opening a saloon. Resident Joe Shultz entered the grocery and general merchandise business in 1884.

Dawson school house, circa 1885. – Courtesy photo

In 1887, the reported population of Dawson was 500. The Dawson Masonic Institute occupied a two-story frame building, where classes were held on the ground floor, and Masonic lodge meetings on the second.

The Dawson music class of 1907. – Courtesy photo

During the early decades of the twentieth century, Dawson enjoyed a period of growth. The town was incorporated in 1908, and by 1914 to the mid-1920s, the population grew to 950.

In 1926, the town was home to a telephone exchange, two banks, four cotton gins, a bottling works, and a cottonseed oil mill. Residents in the community had three miles of paved road.

In 1928, the population of Dawson grew to 1,500, and held steady around 1,100 from the 1930s. Sixty-five businesses were maintained in the community through the mid-1950s.

The 1960s saw some population decline and the 1988 census reported the area with 789 residents. Seven businesses and a post office remained in the area.

In a unique piece of local history, on May 3, 1968, a Lockheed L-188A Electra crashed in the area due to flying into a severe thunderstorm. The following investigation discovered the pilot made the decision to penetrate a heavy area of stormy weather, which resulted in structural overstress and a failure of the airframe. This was due to the pilot having lost control while attempting to recover from a steep 180° turn executed to escape the weather.

While the population dropped again in 1990 to 766 residents, by 2000, it had grown again to 852. The 2010 census recorded the population at 807.

Today, the city of Dawson is served by its Mayor, Stephen Sanders. Dawson Independent School District meets the town’s educational needs, and the Dawson Fighting Bulldogs varsity football team well represents the district every fall.

For its 140-year anniversary, the Dawwg Days of Dawson community festival will present a celebratory event featuring a VFD pancake breakfast, a cornhole tournament, a car and motorcycle show, a street dance by The Fog, and food and retail vendors.

At 807 residents as of last census count, Dawson welcomes new visitors daily. – Photo by Guy Chapman

– The staff of the Navarro County Gazette wishes the City of Dawson a very happy 140th birthday.

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